Don’t Go Away

The off-season is the ideal time for people to take a break from racing, but not me. This is when I catch up with all the things I haven’t had time for during the main season. I hope you’ll stick around because there is also plenty else happening around the racing blogosphere too.

For one thing I have been moving house over the last week, and preparing for it for a while beforehand, so my planned blog posts have been delayed – there’s a bit of a backlog now. Over the next fortnight I plan to write about:

– Saturday and Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix;
– A few short paragraphs on all the F1 races since then;
– A few short paragraphs on the last two MotoGP races of the season;
– My day at Silverstone for the Le Mans Series;
– Some other seemingly-random stuff I’ve been watching;

After that I’ll be catchup on some racing from all over the place as I try to cut down my massive backlog of things marked ‘to be watched’. I insist upon watching it now I have it, no cheating by skipping ahead.

Then we’re into the depths of the off-season and there is the Thursday Thoughts series which will surely make a comeback in a couple of weeks, then perhaps Bloggers Swap Shop could make a return after its triumphant debut a few months ago. Be sure to check out all the various other blogs taking part in these initatives, not only when they are happening but in the meantime because there are some good posts out there.

I’m tempted to start a series of posts linking to good blog articles I find elsewhere. Jackie at VivaF1 does for F1 articles, Tony at PopOffValve does a great series on IndyCar, JOWT for junior series. I’m not aware of anyone doing it across multiple disciplines of racing. In any case, these sites and others need more links to them not just from them. The remit of this blog is to expose people to racing they might not otherwise follow, and act as a discussion place for those of us that already do. The game has done that a little, at the expense of the discussion. Time to redress the balance.

Then there are the F1 launches and tests, Dakar and soon Daytona again. It isn’t that long really.

Don’t disappear this winter – your humble bloggers aren’t.

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2010 Belgian GP – Friday Pt.1

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Friday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds, Thursday Pt.1 and Pt.2. Once again I apologise for the lengthy delay.

Friday

Thursday’s pitlane walk had really got us in the mood to see some track action, unfortunately Friday dawned as one of the wettest in months. Nevertheless we got ourselves togged up in rain gear and wangled a lift to the circuit from the resident campsite owner / driver / breakfast-maker / barman / fixer – for a small fee of course. It was a damned sight better than paying for the far more expensive bus option with all the bogans*. We weren’t so convinced when we were told to get into the minibus with the benches laid out along the length with no seatbelts, but it was all good fun and turns out ‘Bub’ took a shine to us – more about him another time.

Francorchamps village was filled with race fans milling around in the general direction of the race track, and a long line of traffic – some of us tried to spot famous faces but no joy. Unfortunately there was a bit of drama at the gate as one of the tickets refused to scan, the water causing it problems, but thankfully after several attempts it worked and let us all through. Perhaps having paper tickets at a venue known for wet races is a bad idea?

Continue reading “2010 Belgian GP – Friday Pt.1”

I’m Watching.. MotoGP

MotoGP 2010 – Australian GP

Phillip Island, Australia – Round 17 of 18

17th October 2010
BBC coverage

Front row: Casey Stoner is on pole at his home circuit, new champion Jorge Lorenzo 2nd, Ben Spies an impressive 3rd.
Dani Pedrosa is still out through injury after crashing in free practice at Motegi.

This will be Mika Kallio’s last race of the year which is a shame, he’d been tipped as a new talent but after a few poor races he’s shuffled out. He’ll be replaced by Carlos Checa, who spent 12 years in the top class before moving to World Superbikes.

Conditions are very windy and it has been raining for three days straight – but today it is dry.

Race Start

Stoner and Lorenzo make a good initial start before Spies tries to run around the outside, but he gets mugged by Simoncelli and Hayden. By the end of lap one Stoner already had a 1.5 second lead over Lorenzo! Simoncelli’s Honda passes Hayden’s Ducati on the front straight. Check up with the Doctor, Rossi is down in 9th.

A bit of a battle between Dovi and Spies ends up with Spies ahead and Dovi dropping back, slowing which allows Rossi (now 6th) to catch up to Spies. Replay: Dovizioso’s bike is going slowly and multiple riders pass him, he pits shortly afterwards.

Lap 5 and the battle for 3rd is suddenly Spies vs Hayden vs Simoncelli vs Rossi in that order, I don’t remember seeing Spies move up through the group, but here goes Rossi, up another position.
Lap 6, Stoner has a 2.6sec lead over Lorenzo who’s 4 seconds ahead of this mad battle for 3rd.

BBC commentary reminds us that the new engine rule is in effect, most guys are on their 6th engine of the year but because Rossi missed races he’s able to keep using new engines when others are saving theirs. Rossi and Simoncelli make their way past Hayden who’s back up to speed on their tail – and just a few corners later Rossi is past Spies for 3rd, having made two places in a lap. Spies then gets shuffled back to 6th by the other two who continue scrapping as Rossi darts away from them.

A couple of laps later and I didn’t expect this, Hayden is catching Rossi! The 2011 teammates are running together with a gap to the pair of Simoncelli and Spies. Things calmed down for a while thereafter, small groups of bikes circulated and while they weren’t trying any less the amount of passing seemed to drop for a bit. It was a bit like the Aragon race with pairs or threes racing and the gaps enlarging between the groups.

Further back, de Puniet, Bautista and Kallio make it three abreast in the fast southern loop! Dangerous stuff, it is barely wide enough for three bikes at these speeds. Spies gets ahead of Simoncelli once more.

Wow, suddenly Hayden makes a move and is past Rossi into second! 3 laps remaining, can he hold on to it? Rossi attacks Hayden just as hard as Nicky had been doing for so long, but with only three-quarters of a lap to go this could go either way.
Vale dive-bombs him, they are side-by-side as they hang on around the low grip right-hander, does it he make it.. yes! Amazing. All credit to the pair of them for a cracking race in which they were the undoubted highlight, and well done to Casey Stoner on his dominant, flawless win.

Podium: 1. Stoner, 2. Lorenzo, 3. Rossi.
Hayden 4th, Spies, Simoncelli, Edwards, Espargaro, Melandri etc.

The race for the first two positions was over at the first corner of the first lap, the race for 3rd wasn’t settled until the last corner of the last lap! Excellent race.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=MotoGP+Phillip+Island&iid=9993557″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9993557/motogp-australia-race/motogp-australia-race.jpg?size=500&imageId=9993557″ width=”380″ height=”265″ /]

Points:

Lorenzo 333 (C), Pedrosa 228, Stoner 205, Rossi 197, Dovizioso 179, Spies 163

The next round is the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril this weekend.

Photo credit: Rossi stalks Hayden in the closing stages at Phillip Island – Lucas Dawson / Getty Images via PicApp.com

I’m Watching.. MotoGP

MotoGP 2010 – Malaysian GP

Sepang, Malaysia – Rnd 15 of 18

3 October 2010
BBC coverage

I have a massive backlog of articles but as I’m in the middle of sorting a move to another flat things are a bit delayed.

Front row: Jorge Lorenzo starts on pole, Nicky Hayden 2nd, Andrea ‘Dovi’ Dovizioso 3rd.
Dani Pedrosa is still out with an injury sustained in free practice in Japan.

At the start Lorenzo gets away with a small gap, yet by the end of lap one Dovi had got side by side with him at the last corner – Lorenzo fended him off and the battle continued. Just as they were dropping the Ducatis one of them, Stoner, found himself in the gravel thus enlargening the gap between the leaders and the other Ducati of Hayden, who had about 6 bikes on his tail.

Valentino Rossi had dropped from 6th to 11th at the start and immediately set about re-passing people. After just a couple of laps he was in 6th again, two laps more and he was up to 3rd! Incredible even for him, if you consider he’s still carrying an injury from earlier in the season. We’re told his leg has fully healed, his shoulder has not.

Capirossi parked up and limped away, he’s still carrying an injury from a few races before. A pit report from Matt Roberts later in the race confirms he retired due to an electrical fault on his Suzuki, it wasn’t down to his injury.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=MotoGP+Sepang&iid=10016264″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/10016264/motogp-malaysia-race/motogp-malaysia-race.jpg?size=500&imageId=10016264″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

Dovi hassled Lorenzo for lap after lap as Rossi slowly, slowly closed in on them, before Dovizioso was able to make the move on lap 8 with a great pass! Edwards retired from 8th somewhere here.

Rossi passes Lorenzo for 2nd, I don’t think Lorenzo worked TOO hard for it because he wants to secure the title in this race. In the same place one lap later Rossi takes the lead! He dove into the tight left-hander and darted away into the lead, immediately opening a little gap. Simply brilliant.

Hayden slipped to the back of the fairly big pack running in the upper midfield as Spies and Simoncelli fought to head this group. Suddenly on lap 15 Dovizioso seems to come from nowhere to retake the race lead from Rossi! Half a lap later Vale retakes the place in his favourite overtaking spot. This is really fantastic stuff!

Wow, great scrap between Simoncelli, Bautista, Hayden and Ayama. Bautista passed two guys in one move! It continued and Simoncelli and Aoyama bumped and bruised until they run wide (Simoncelli’s fault) allowing Hayden to pass both.
Up front, Rossi and Dovi dropped Lorenzo by a big margin, the trio miles ahead of the rest. That’s how it finished.

Podium: 1. Rossi, 2. Dovizioso, 3. Lorenzo. Jorge Lorenzo confirmed as 2010 MotoGP World Champion!
Some guys dressed as Mario and Luigi meet him on the cooldown lap and he holds up a Game Over sign to the bike’s onboard camera! Massive cheers from the crowd, and it is a big crowd.
Spies finished 4th, Bautista, Hayden, Aoyama, etc.

What a stunning race. After several really boring GPs the series has regained its old form in style, well done to all concerned.

Well done to both race winner Rossi and champion Lorenzo, who’s run of race wins and other podium positions were going to be incredibly hard to beat even if the opposition hadn’t struggled with injury, there’s no false title here as Lorenzo worked for every result.

Points:

Lorenzo 313 (C), Pedrosa 228, Rossi 181, Stoner 180, Dovizioso 179, Spies 152

The next round is Phillip Island, Australia, for which there will be a post up in a few days.

Photo credit:  Andrea Dovizioso leads after passing Jorge Lorenzo, while Valentino Rossi is closing, closing, closing. (c) Getty Images via Picapp.

I’m Watching… MotoGP

I watch racing so you don’t have to. Missed any MotoGP lately? Allow me to briefly recap.

[I’ve changed the format of these posts to do one championship at a time, makes it less scattergun, you can pick the ones you’re interested in, and helps me find things in the archive – and yes I am still miles behind, I’ve got loads of these in draft for different series]

MotoGP
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
29 August 2010

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=MotoGP+Indianapolis&iid=9627002″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9627002/ben-spies-leads-dani/ben-spies-leads-dani.jpg?size=500&imageId=9627002″ width=”234″ height=”134″ /]

I’m glad MotoGP visits the US twice but both Indianapolis visits prior to this one were pretty unspectacular, the weather intervened with the one and the other was just plain boring. Unfortunately this year’s race was also uninspiring. This is a real shame because the local crowd is enthusiastic, if looking a little lost in the massive stands of Indy. I maintain this date is not helped by having an IndyCar race the previous night in Chicago, much of the local IndyCar media might be expected to cover this race too and they weren’t all able to do so. Got to hurt publicity, etc.

The first half of the race was reasonably good. Pedrosa put in a storming ride to dominate the field, a really excellent performance involving passing three or four other riders – including an impressive Ben Spies (pictured) – in the early running before disappearing into the distance in the second half of the race. For me that was the extent of the action, there were a few changes among the lower positions but after the wholesale change of riders at that end of the grid for this season I don’t really care for any of them. Bring back Vermuelen, Toseland and co, I say.

*

MotoGP
Misano, Italy

5 September 2010

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=MotoGP+San+Marino&iid=9653951″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9653951/honda-motogp-rider-pedrosa/honda-motogp-rider-pedrosa.jpg?size=500&imageId=9653951″ width=”234″ height=”116″ /]

Again this race featured some great early battling before settling down into a Pedrosa benefit. It is great to see the guy on an upswing in form and taking the fight to Lorenzo because somebody had to, yet #99 still finished 2nd so his points advantage over Dani is remains massive. Rossi finished an amazing 3rd given his injuries, a stellar performance in the circumstances and he must’ve been hurting. That was about it for this race! We’re all hoping the new-for-2011 rules will bring back the great races seen in the top flight of motorcycle racing just a few short years ago, some series can get away with a long string of boring races but I don’t think MotoGP can for much longer, it is renowned for action and right now we aren’t getting it.

Both Indy and Misano races were held under a cloud following the death in Indy of the 13-year old Peter Lenz in the USGPRU support race warm-up, and an in Misano a Moto2 accident involving 19-year old Shoya Tomizawa which led to his eventual passing and was announced just as the main race came to an end. They were both accidents that even the best safety precautions would have struggled to prevent but that doesn’t make them any less sad or tragic. My thoughts are with their families and colleagues.

*

MotoGP
Motorland Aragon, Alcaniz, Spain
19 September 2010

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=MotoGP+Aragon&iid=9812324″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9812324/ducati-motogp-rider-stoner/ducati-motogp-rider-stoner.jpg?size=500&imageId=9812324″ width=”234″ height=”140″ /]

A new venue for MotoGP, this recently constructed circuit in Northern Spain is a Tilke creation with some quite interesting sections, including elevation changes and tight and fairly narrow twisty bits by Tilke’s standards – it is a good design. Unfortunately it all looks a bit bland simply because there is no scenery to speak of, it is a yellow/orange dustbowl.

Lorenzo and Stoner battled hard on the opening lap, with Casey coming off best. He soon disappeared into a handy lead over Pedrosa who’d also passed #99. Pedrosa then made an error and had to recover, this could’ve sunk him but he battled back hard – helped in no small part by his Honda engine on the very long back straight, that engine is the class of the field this year. It still needed to be ridden though and Dani did so brilliantly to recover up to 2nd place and only a second down on Stoner at times, until he had to give best and the Aussie duly took the win.

A tip of the hat to Nicky Hayden for finishing an improved 3rd in spectacular style by sending it up the inside of Lorenzo on the very final lap. They’d been fighting closely for some time, as had Dovisiozo and Spies which went the American’s way when Dovi crashed out, again on the last lap.

*

MotoGP
Twin-Ring Motegi, Japan
3 October 2010

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=MotoGP+Motegi&iid=9904276″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9904276/yamaha-motogp-rider-rossi/yamaha-motogp-rider-rossi.jpg?size=500&imageId=9904276″ width=”234″ height=”216″ /]

This round was originally scheduled for April but was postponed due to the volcanic ash cloud over Europe, preventing travel. Drama immediately! No Pedrosa for this race because he crashed badly in free practice with a stuck throttle – he’s flown home to Spain. Lorenzo had his worse qualifying session of the year and starts all the way down in 4th, the first man on the second row – how will he possibly cope? It was really good to see Edwards returning to the front end of the grid in 5th alongside his team-mate Spies 6th.

Dovisiozo got a good start initially but Stoner came breezing by in the first sequence of corners, then just rode away from the field. Lorenzo passed Rossi for 3rd and Capirossi got from 10th to 6th in the early running, well done Loris. Spies dropped to 8th before clashing with Hayden and both wound up fighting for last, at least until they caught the usual tailenders.

Simoncelli put a good pass on Edwards for 5th, he’s having an impressive season. Meanwhile, the race nearer the front came alive – what a brilliant battle between Lorenzo and Rossi! Vale pushed and harried him until he was able to make the move, and while he does have a newer engine with a later development step he is still carrying that injury. They passed an repassed each other for several laps, and these people are supposed to be teammates!

Back in the field Colin Edwards pulled himself together to attack Simoncelli again, couldn’t quite do it but never gave up and fought all the way, a great comeback after finishing only 12th in Aragon, his 100th start. His team-mate Spies who’d fallen to the back had fought his way through the field into the top eight, while Hayden got up to 12th. After the frenetic action in the middle of the race things were pretty quiet in the top half dozen for a long while, until 3 to go when Lorenzo suddenly launched attack after attack on Rossi for 3rd. He wasn’t able to pull it off. Stoner made it two races in a row, Dovi 2nd and Rossi claimed the final podium spot from Lorenzo. Everyone else was half a minute behind.

*

After these races the top of the standings were:

297 Lorenzo
228 Pedrosa
180 Stoner
159 Dovisiozo
156 Rossi

With no Pedrosa and a commanding lead Lorenzo was now aiming to claim the title at the next round, which was Sepang last week. I’m sure you’ve probably seen the outcome already. Then the circus moves on to Phillip Island this week and then heads back to Portugal and Spain to close the season. I’ll recap all four together in roughly a month from now, and I hope this summary has been useful!

All photos courtesy of PicApp.

2010 Belgian GP – Thursday Pt.2

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Thursday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds here and Thursday Pt.1 here. Once again, I apologise for the lengthy delay.

Pitwalk!

This was all good fun but we were now missing the pitwalk, it was about 5.15pm so it was already halfway through and we had drivers and cars to try and see. We moved our cars out of the way and walked as quickly as possible past the various vendors, in through the La Source gate – and on to the track itself.

Wow! This came as a minor shock, I suppose I expected to be diverted over a bridge or under a tunnel to get to the infield but no, we were walking across La Source corner itself and into the pitlane exit! The place was bustling, La Source was packed with people and you could see hundreds on the main straight and yet more in the pitlane.


Gavin heading to the pitwalk / The famous house! / La Source exit

At this stage it was everyone for themselves, we instintively split up because we each knew we were running out of time and it was important to see as much as you could manage, plus we all had different interests. Some went rushing down pitlane, some checked out the new teams nearer our entrance. I hung around La Source for a little bit, looked at the steeper-than-expected run down the hill past the support paddock, and then walked into the pitlane where I found Lukeh and Lou had spotted David Croft and Anthony Davidson of BBC Radio 5 Live, in their trackies ready for their run (at every GP they run a lap of the track). I missed the conversation but was relayed it later, it seems Crofty remembered the pair having met at Goodwood earlier in the year! Lou had made a banner especially for them.

Here are a selection of photos from the pitwalk:



I also got a small amount of video:

Alternative link at Picasa in case the YouTube version is pulled (I can’t embed Picasa videos).

Somehow, and I still have no idea how they did it among all these people, Kathi and Emma appeared in front of us and started talking to us, and knew who we were. It took me a few moments to register that it was them! I think they must have found Lou or one of the others a few moments before? They been there since the pitlane opened and told us they’d managed to meet Bruno Senna and Rubens Barrichello, who’d come out of the pits to give signatures and meet the fans. Pretty cool! It was nearing 6pm and at the far end of pitlane security were getting a bit pushy, so Kathi and Emma were heading out. Since we’d only been there a short time we weren’t having that! I for one wasn’t planning to leave until I physically couldn’t stay any more.

That’s pretty much what happened. The guards worked their way down from pit in, and then split pitlane in half so those of us who hadn’t got that far were out of luck. Those with the ‘big teams’ were led out on to the main straight, the rest of us were trapped and had to return from whence we came, to pit exit. We took some more pics as we made our way slowly out.



There are a few more photos in my Spa Thursday album.

We soaked up the great atmosphere at La Source for a short while before making our way up the steep hill towards Franchorchamps village and our cars.

Evening

Next on the agenda was to book into the luxury mobile homes at the campsite, and unload all our bags. After working around the lanes with a short detour down a steep gravel track, we did just that! We were pleasantly surprised to find the homes were quite spacious, the bedrooms were a bit tight but we only needed them as somewhere to crash overnight and store clothes. The main living space was nice and open with a comfy seating area. A good choice and very well found by Kathi!

We were still one member short. Guille (pronounced sort of like ‘Geeche’) from Argentina was making his way to us from Paris via a train which had been delayed. The group split up, I and a couple of others went to pick up a bit of shopping and collect Guille, Bassano took Emma and Kathi to collect their bags from another town and a few stayed back at the site. We would rendezvous for steaks at the campsite restaurant.

Guille’s train seemed even more delayed than even he’d expected, the 3 of us meeting him were sat in the dark and wet station near some dodgy-looking taxi drivers! Eventually he arrived, I think quite tired after the journey from home including long flights, buses and trains, I think he appreciated that we’d put in orders for steak!

It really was a very good steak, I ate mine quickly enough that most of it was gone by the time I’d got a photo. I had to get a photo. For some reason they served it with melon and orange, really weird. The frites were disappointing, we’d been promised much but they were bog standard thin chips really. Beer was had. Steak and a glass of Hoegaarden is a nice combo.

We wanted to stay and make a night of it, but after the travelling and pitlane excitement were all so tired we had to retire to the homes for a chat in quieter surroundings – the site restaurant/pub got very loud and we wanted to be sociable especially with Guille, Emma and Kathi who we’d barely met. We all went back to one of the homes, talked, and tried to get the wifi to work so that we could comment at Sidepodcast, send tweets and perhaps put up some little blog posts. This didn’t really work, it was a real shame the wifi was unreliable in the girls’ home and was barely functional in the boys’ home. My plans for little blog updates over the weekend went out of the window there and then, and it was a struggle to get connected long enough for even the most basic message. Some people fared better than others, some could get on reasonably well all weekend whereas I had terrible trouble with it. Not to worry, blogs and social media could wait, we were being social in real life with fellow F1 and racing fans, and for us that was even more important.

All embedded photos and videos were taken by me (Patrick Wotton), I haven’t set up anything officially but you can consider them available for use under Creative Commons. Some of the linked media may be copyright, check details on the relevant pages.

Read on with the first part of Friday’s fun!

2010 Belgian GP – Thursday Pt.1

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Thursday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds here. Once again, I apologise for the lengthy delay.

The Road Trip

Following the Tuesday and Wednesday meetups I was still in London, to cut 3 hours off the journey time on Road Trip Day. From the hotel I was to cross South London to meet the others, we’d head to Kent to pick up two more, than take the EuroTunnel train to France for the drive to Belgium. A slight problem though, the week prior to the Grand Prix the organisers announced there would be a pitlane walkabout on Thursday – and if we stuck to our planned schedule there was no way we’d make it.

Cue urgent discussions in the pubs on Tuesday and Wednesday as we attempted to estimate the total journey time. Our original plan merely called for us to aim at the campsite near Spa and we’d get there whenever we got there, with no hurry the tunnel tickets were accordingly booked for lunchtime. Despite none of us having ever driven from London to Folkestone or from Calais to the other side of Belgium we came up with an estimated journey time with the use of Google Maps. We were to leave a couple of hours earlier than planned and push on as best as we could with as few stops as possible. We decided to aim directly for the racetrack, we could drop bags and pick up mobile home keys afterwards. Handily the standard EuroTunnel ticket allows you to be up to two hours early (or late) with no penalty. It was agreed if we got more than halfway there and it became clear there wasn’t a chance, we’d just follow the original plan, back down the speed and cruise on to the campsite. The pitlane walk started at 4.30pm. Our ETA was between 4 and 5pm. It was on.

We’re Off!

I departed the hotel only ten minutes later than planned, not bad for me on a non-work morning. ‘Not a problem,’ thinks I when I reach my car. ‘My sat-nav tells me it will only take 30 minutes and not the 50 I’d thought.’ Nnno. It took an hour! The traffic was heavy but not horrendous by London standards, though hitting every red light was extremely frustrating. Parts of London operate a ‘wave’ system so if you catch a green light you can ‘ride the wave’ of greens all the way. I caught reds. I’ve never known lights stay red for so long, or encountered so many in one run. Road closures did nothing to improve either my arrival time or my mood, and conspired to get me lost near the rendezvous point, not helped when the infernal sat-nav (voiced by Juan Pablo Montoya!) told me the destination was in a residential backroad some half mile away from the real location.

The others kindly agreed to come find me as I was lost and a little flustered by this stage, especially after the stellar efforts made by Chris and Pamela to get to the meeting point extra early from a distance away, it was silly to be even later when all I had to do was drive over and it really annoyed me! However, while I waiting for the others to get to me I decided this would be our hiccup for the day, I reckoned we were always going to have one, this would be it and I was relieved we’d got it out of the way so soon. It would be plain sailing from here.

Chris transferred to my car, then at about 8.20 (an hour late – sorry!) we set off down the A20 and M20 to Ashford to pick up Lou and Luke who were also riding in my car. The other car consisted of Bassano (driving), Gavin/Rubbergoat, Amy and Pamela.

We were very pleased to find we’d overestimated the journey time down to Kent – we’d allowed two hours including London traffic, and it only took us one hour. Bonus! Turns out the traffic was between me and the others, not between the meeting place and the motorway, useful to know if there’s a next time. So we picked up the others pretty much when we said we would, cue a huge relief from us all and me in particular. Both cars fully loaded, the road trip was on, we were set to go to Belgium!

Tunnel

The EuroTunnel shuttle was easy and hassle-free. It was quite spooky driving up to the unmanned check-in screen and have your name appear on the screen before you’ve even done anything – it scanned the car number plate! After a quick pitstop in the terminal we passed through passport control, the UK guys waved us straight through and the French just had a glance at our passports, nice and easy. The other car was delayed briefly as Amy and Pamela are from outside the EU, but no problems there either. For those not familiar with the tunnel, you have the curiosity of passing French customs while in the UK, legally you are then in France while physically still being in Kent. I’m not sure why this is still the case because travel between two EU countries is supposed to be unrestricted, border controls across the continent have been dismantled.

Then on to the train! Many people would find this unremarkable, it’s fair to say most of us are quite geeky and we were quite excited by it.

As each car slowly boarded, we were directed to the ramp to the upper floor. It had been drizzling so the ramp was wet, I left a gap to the car ahead so I wouldn’t have to stop on the ramp, went to put the power on and got a nice dose of wheelspin! Wheelspin on a train, a first for all of us in the car.

The train, once it gets going after all the safety announcements, only takes 35 minutes to travel under the Channel to Calais. Pretty sure it took us as long to get through security and the queues between the terminal and the train! When on the train we got out of the cars for a chat and a leg-stretch before the longer driving stint ahead.

Road Trip!

As you do all the passport checks before boarding, when leaving you drive straight off the train, along a service road and directly on to the autoroute – we were on our way! I’m not sure about Bassano but this was my first time driving outside the UK and on the right-hand side of the road. I’ve been a passenger many times, including a 10-hour run from the South of France to the tunnel. I found it really easy, I suppose because it was a two-lane motorway and the only thing to remember was the faster cars were on the left of the car not the right. It wasn’t like there were cars coming toward us on the opposite side.. not yet.

We quickly wound the cars up to pace, I was the lead car and I wanted to make the most of the 130km/h (80mph) speed limit in France and the 120km/h (75mph) limit in Belgium (and especially the higher French limit), but being careful not to stray over them because I’d been warned of hidden cameras along our route – French/Belgian examples aren’t as conspicuous as their UK equivalents and the fines are higher.

The French section was unremarkable, yet seemingly just as soon as we crossed into Belgium the driving standards changed completely. It was normal for drivers in the slow lane to pull into the fast lane no matter what was bearing down on them, no matter what speed they were doing, and only use their indicators when they were nearly across the gap, if at all. This isn’t ideal when you are pushing on. The pair of us each had to hit the brakes hard on many occasions including cars splitting us up. At home, slower traffic usually has enough sense to check the mirrors first!

There were plenty of near misses and not just with us but with a lot of traffic in the faster lane. It was just the same at slower speeds. In traffic such as the long 5mph Brussels jam, they thought nothing of cutting across two lanes of traffic in no more than 50 feet – not aided by some awful junction design which expected traffic to cross multiple lanes in well under a kilometre. A truck did that in front of me and I was worried he’d take out the nose of the car!

That traffic jam delayed us quite a bit, but after that despite the quirks of the locals we made really good progress, with just a couple of toilet/coffee/fuel stops which really were just quick stop-and-goes. I’d borrowed some radios, kids toys really and they weren’t great, but we managed to get messages to each other along the journey. Every time we stopped we called out “Box! Box! Box!” to tell the other car we were pitting!

Finding the Track

We arrived in the Ardennes area at about 4.30pm and got near the track at about 5pm. As we approached we had the slight problem of finding the right entrance, because this wasn’t a normal day for the public not all the gates were open. The maps provided with the tickets were very vague and were designed for Friday, Saturday and Sunday – there was no indication of where to go for the pit walk, or on the signs.

We followed our best guess at which of the 3 motorway exits to take and followed the signs to the track, when we heard a call over the radio from Gavin. We were on the old circuit! The main road meets it at a roundabout near the small town of Malmedy, we were heading ‘the wrong way’ along the classic circuit towards the modern circuit. It was surprisingly narrow for a race track (though for us it was a normal 2-lane country road) and surprisingly steep, I hadn’t realised just how steep this section was. It was barely recognisable as the old circuit as it had been kept up to modern road standards with smooth tarmac, painted lines, signs and the rest. Just before Les Combes it veered off to a bypass, the circuit has been permanent for some years now and the local roads have found a way around it.

After trying a gate or two we found our way to a roundabout near to La Source corner, we were just about to try our luck with the guards when someone shouted out – Jake and Martin!

Jake Humphrey and Martin Brundle from the BBC had driven over from London at the same time we did, in Martin’s classic Jaguar E-Type rigged with cameras for a special pre-race feature. They had parked up on the outside of this roundabout and were surrounded by people!

We quickly abandoned the cars, everyone grabbed cameras and went running over to them. I made sure the car was out of the way as best it could be, and locked, with all these people around I wasn’t keen to leave it unlocked and unattended when it had all our bags in it! I tried to find my camera but remembered I’d left it in my main bag, being the driver I assumed I wouldn’t need it until the paddock as I’d be too busy! Unfortunately I didn’t grab a photo, thankfully many of the rest of our group did. Martin with me and Lou; Jake and Martin with Pamela and Amy; So did Jake himself when he tweeted a photo of our group! We really had only been there ten minutes. Finally, Lou got a shot of that very same Twitpic moment from the other angle.

What a great welcome to Spa!

You can read Part 2 of Thursday’s adventures here.